Bo Derek was one of the most talked-about stars of the 1980s. The boys wanted to date her, and the girls wanted to be her. So pretty much everyone had a poster of her on their walls. Bo started off as an ordinary girl next door with the same hopes and aspirations that other young kids have. Bo met director John Derek, the love of her life when she was just 16 years old. With his help, she blossomed into the “It Girl” of the ‘80s. She became the blonde bombshell that everyone still knows her as.
While she came from humble beginnings and eventually landed in Hollywood stardom, Bo’s career wasn’t always successful. You know by now that many times when it comes to Hollywood famous faces, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. Bo is no exception. She went through her own share of trials and tribulations.
This is the story of Bo Derek.
Surprise, surprise! Bo Derek isn’t her real name. Well, she married into the last name Derek, but Bo is just her stage name. She was born Mary Cathleen Collins in 1956 and grew up in Southern California. It was in California that her story began. As show business was taking off at the time, in California especially, the young Bo found out all about the lavish life of movie stars.
Her father was Paul Collins, a Hobie Cat executive, and her mother was Norma, a make-up artist and hairdresser to Ann-Margret. Collins’ parents eventually divorced, and her mother married an American stunt man named Bobby Bass. It was through her stepdad that Bo was introduced to the glitz and glamor of Hollywood.
School Didn’t Come First
After seeing her stepdad make a living on movie and T.V. sets, she developed a real interest in getting famous. Compared to the fun life of Hollywood, school seemed boring and far from what she wanted to do. She went to Narbonne High School and George S. Patton Continuation School, which were both in Harbor City, California.
She said once in a 1985 interview on ‘Late Night with David Letterman’: “I was 16 when I quit high school. I didn’t really mean to quit. I spent about a month going to the beach surfing and sunbathing while I was supposed to be in school: when I got caught, my mom was furious. I started to go back to school, and I was really enjoying it, and then I went to go do this film with John in Greece.”
A High School Drop Out
Bo landed an interesting opportunity when she was auditioning for a role in the movie ‘Fantasies.’ She was 16 years old at the time and caught the attention of the director, John Derek. Derek unsurprisingly thought she was beautiful and would be the perfect addition to his movie. It was clearly an offer she could not refuse.
So she started to skip classes to fly off to Greece to shoot her scenes for ten days. After her initial role in the movie, Bo decided that school just wasn’t necessary. (Don’t all teens say that?) So she left school altogether in pursuit of an acting career. And it wasn’t only the movies that attracted the young teenager…
In Love with an Older Man
While she was still a high school student, Bo became romantically involved with John Derek, the director, who was also a married man. Oh, and not to mention he was 30 years her senior. It didn’t take long for Derek to divorce his wife, actress Linda Evans. At first, they began dating under the watchful eye of the shocked and disapproving media.
But the scrutiny was getting to be too much, and the couple moved to Germany. Why to Germany? Because it was a place where John wouldn’t be subject to prosecution under California’s statutory rape laws. At the time, Collins was under the age of consent. And that was a big no-no. But it seems like nothing was going to stop these two love birds.
Beginners’ Bad Luck
In 1973, the production of Fantasies began, which was a low-budget, English-language romantic drama. It starred Collins and some unknown German actors. To capitalize on Collins’ beauty, Derek worked some risqué scenes into the film, including some brief nudity. The film wasn’t released until 1981, only to get negative reviews.
The movie was nowhere near a hit. None of the motion picture companies showed any interest in the risky film. The movie’s debut got slammed with some bad reviews, so Bo’s first film was a flop. But then again, many hugely famous actors have started out with either box office flops or movies that absolutely no one has even heard of. But one thing for sure about that film was that it brought her to her future husband.
Tying the Knot
After spending a period of time in Germany, the couple returned to the U.S. and decided to get married. Bo and John tied the knot on June 10th, 1976, when she was 19, and he was 49. By that time, the young bride got something of a Hollywood makeover. As per John’s suggestion, she bleached her hair blonde and adopted the name, Bo Derek.
Their age gap seems a little alarming to most people. But interestingly enough, in the ‘70s, it was actually common for partners to have an age gap between them. At the time, it wasn’t so strange. And now that she was 19, at least it was legal! While they were married and in love, Bo couldn’t shake the guilt of ruining a marriage.
Bo had felt bad about the fact that she fell in love with a married man and essentially broke up their marriage. She was fully aware that she was indeed “the other woman.” In an interview with Interview Magazine, Bo stated, “I just hate myself when I think about doing that. That’s the worst thing you can do. It was very complicated and dramatic, obviously.”
Bo never regretted that she and John connected, but she admits that the circumstances in which they did weren’t favorable. And when it came to seeing Linda, John’s ex-wife, Bo had a particularly hard time. She couldn’t face Linda without feeling utterly terrible. Bo told Oprah once that she feels horrible when she’s around her, saying that “It’s just ingrained, years later. That will never change.”
What Does Linda Have to Say About it?
Bo may have had a hard time seeing her husband’s ex-wife at events or in public, but what about Linda herself? She was the woman who was left behind in this love triangle. Of course, Linda was also interviewed and was asked about how she felt about the drama. She shared her pain in an interview with Fox.
Linda Evans said: “It was the worst thing that could happen to me in the world, to live without John. He was everything to me.” Ouch. When you hear it like that from her mouth, you can imagine how awkward it was for Bo. But Linda also explained how she learned to live with it, and then to finally let go and start living her life again.
Bo and Linda’s Past
Most people are surprised to hear that Linda and Bo actually knew each other before the affair with John ever began. Linda had even taught Bo a little about Hollywood life when she was introduced to her by John. Linda reflected on what she shared with the young actress. “I got to know Bo before she became Bo. I helped her learn to act, helped teach her about the business.”
This could only have made the news of the affair even harder to swallow. But years later, Bo and Linda became friends. What were Linda’s thoughts about John’s choice of partners? “It was easy for me to be friends with them because I really liked them.” This goes to show how mature Linda really was.
Becoming a Sex Symbol
Bo soon learned how beneficial it was for her career that she was married to a director. She was placed in all kinds of movies. She found her rise to fame after getting cast in the hit movie from 1979 called ‘10.’ She played the lead role and did a great job. Almost all of America would agree as Bo became a sensation and a sex symbol.
All that despite being in the movie for all of 10 minutes. According to Bo, “’10’ for me was a small part. I’m in the movie for about 10 minutes. The movie is Dudley Moore and the legendary, gorgeous Julie Andrews. I had a little tiny part, and I was happy to go to Mexico. That’s all I expected out of that movie.”
A Big Deal
After the movie came out, her life changed overnight. All of a sudden, she found herself on the covers of all the magazines and had the legendary Walter Cronkite talking about her on the evening news. In her own words: “It was a big deal.” Her brief appearance in the movie was enough to make her into an instant sex symbol.
Her sultry image made a lasting impact on Hollywood. Bo wasn’t just a desirable woman on screen; she was just as lovely in real life, too. As her status rose, so did her pictures on many boys’ bedroom walls. She then took her sexy image to Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine. She was featured in Playboy a number of times between 1980 and 1990.
“It wasn’t that big of a problem for me, because I never took it seriously,” Bo later recalled about her pinup status. “It was always just a job like you put on your uniform. Back then, it was a time where we had to cross boundaries in sexuality and sensuality in movies. Who’s going to do a nude scene first? … Now, you look back, and what was all the fuss about?”
But now, the star’s proudest role is being an advocate. Her shampoo line for dogs named Bo Derek Pet Care helps support retired military dogs. “Military working dogs give us everything,” Bo said. Speaking of the military, in 2003, she was granted the highest award from the Department of Veterans Affairs for her efforts supporting American veterans.
Me Tarzan, You Jane
1981 could have been the height of her career, which was the year she landed the starring role in the film ‘Tarzan, The Ape Man.’ But things didn’t quite go as planned as critics were harsh on the end product. Some claimed that it could be one of the worst films ever made. That has got to be painful. From being excited to get such a lead role to be disappointed at the results, it wasn’t an easy pill to swallow.
Tarzan: The Ape Man, was her first mainstream Hollywood film. It was directed, obviously, by her husband, who focused more on Derek’s character of Jane than Tarzan himself. There were several scenes of Derek wearing scandalous outfits, and the movie wasn’t without its regular nude scene with her.
Famous For Her Looks
After the Tarzan flop, Bo continued on with her career and tried to find some better movie roles. But even though the movies she was in were flopping, she was still making a name for herself. And not as a bad actress or anything like that. She was known as the blonde bombshell actress that looks great on screen.
It was almost as though she could do no harm and that her roles didn’t really matter to the public. But that’s not to say that it didn’t impact her career, however. Bo was starting to be typecast for the more shallow roles, the ones that required a pretty woman instead of any deep and complex parts.
Yet Another Derek Film
The mid-‘80s saw Bo starring in yet another movie directed by her husband. This time she was cast in the film called ‘Bolero’ which came out in 1984. A lot was riding on the success of the film as it was seen as her last effort to make it in Hollywood as more than just a pretty face.
The edginess of the movie, along with John’s signature risky style, proved to be too much for the general audience. It got an X-rating thanks to the sexual nature and use of nudity, which doesn’t usually go over well at the box office. Overall, the film didn’t do well, and the opportunity for Bo seemed to be a waste. Some critics said that Bo was trying too hard.
Good and Bad Awards
In 1980, Bo received a Golden Globe for her role in the film ’10,’ which is something any actress would dream for. But the high was met with a low when in 1984, Bo received an “award” for Worst Actress in the film ‘Bolero.’ The inconsistency of her roles and her choice of films wasn’t doing her any good.
Bo felt that she needed to take some time off of acting. She ended up taking a five-year hiatus. She later returned to the big screen, this time a bit older and lesser-known. She had shed her image as the ‘it girl.’ She returned to acting with ‘Ghosts Can’t Do It’ in 1989, which was the final work collaboration of Bo and her husband. And yup, it was another failure.
A Heart Attack
There’s another reason why Bo took a number of years off her career. It wasn’t just because she was not getting the attention she wanted; it was also because her husband had a heart attack. John had a heart attack in 1986 and needed time to recover. Bo was taking care of him during this time. His next movie was to be his last.
‘Ghosts Can’t Do It’ was inspired slightly by his own romance story. It was about a man who married a woman 30 years younger. And the man had a heart attack, too. So it doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out. And obviously, Bo was cast as the lead. For her performance, in which she delivered lines like “You have my heart…how can I live without my heart,” Bo Derek won her third Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress.
Making Her Comeback
After starring in her husband’s last film, Bo stayed in the movie business and made appearances in other films, like ‘Tommy Boy’ and ‘Woman of Desire’ in the 90s. She also did ‘Hot Chocolate,’ ‘Shattered Image,’ and ‘Woman of Desire.’ For her performance in ‘Tommy Boy,’ Bo got yet another Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress. Poor thing.
But then Bo had to take time off yet again to help her ill husband. John was nearly 70 years old now, and his health was declining even more. At this point, she made looking after her husband, the main priority and put her career on the backburner. But it wouldn’t be long before she would have to say goodbye to him.
May He Rest in Peace
Bo and John had been married for 22 years before he passed away. Heart disease took over him. Bo expressed her sadness in an interview with Larry King: “He was 71, so it was going to happen. I didn’t think it would happen that soon, but it was part of our relationship from the beginning that most likely, I would live part of my life alone without him.”
She said she understood that marrying a man much older would mean that such a situation was inevitable, but it doesn’t lessen the grief anymore. John was more than just a husband and a director to her; he was her mentor and life partner. It was clearly a big blow for him to suddenly be out of her life. So what was life after John like?
Life Goes On
Think about this for a second: back when Bo had met John, she was just a teenager and entered into a relationship with this much older man – up until the point of his death, which came when she was 41. So she never experienced dating life! She never knew what going out with boys, or men was like. It’s quite a peculiar situation if you ask me.
This also means that she never had her heartbroken by a man. All that made it scary for Bo to be in the world, single and alone. But because she is beautiful, kind, and a devoted partner, it wouldn’t take long for her to find another special person.
Bo stayed in show business, as that was pretty much all she knew, and found herself making many guest appearances in movies and T.V. in the 2000s. People recognized her as the bombshell from the past, everyone knowing the famous name of Bo Derek. This alone brought her lots of work. Some of the shows she appeared in were ‘A Pizza Place,’ ‘Family Law,’ ‘The Drew Carey Show,’ ‘7th Heaven,’ and ‘Two Guys, A Girl.’
She also appeared in feature films in the 2000s, including ‘Frozen with Fear’ (2000) and ‘The Master of Disguise’ (2002). But she was still searching for more fulfilling work and decided that she wanted to branch out. She decided to take her career a little more seriously and still be able to pursue her passion.
Her Real Love
Aside from her love of acting, Bo has always had a passion for horses. She actually owns many Andalusian horses and spends lots of time with them, observing and riding them. She said how she learned many lessons from these majestic animals, which she wrote about in her book that was published in 2002 titled ‘Riding Lessons: Everything That Matters in Life I Learned from Horses.’
Her love for animals and talent for writing was something the public eye never got a chance to enjoy. It gave the ‘80s bombshell a whole new side that people could appreciate. She has been a horse lover and riding enthusiast since she was a child. She even became the spokesperson for the Animal Welfare Institute’s campaign to end horse slaughter.
Bo is so passionate about horses that she stands up for their rights and the fair treatment they deserve through activist efforts. She fights against horse slaughter through the passage of federal and state legislation. Thanks to her book and active involvement with animals, she was approached by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
He asked her to be on the horse racing board, and that’s how she earned her spot. She shared once: “I worked on a couple of horse issues in Washington, D.C., primarily the federal bill to ban slaughter of American horses for human consumption overseas.” She takes her love for them very seriously and uses her being a celebrity as a platform to share this awareness.
Passionate About Veterans, Too
Bo Derek goes on USO tours to support troops and also works with the Special Forces Association, which gave her an honorary Green Beret. It’s no surprise that Bo became involved with veterans as they were always a part of her life. For those who don’t know, her father, Paul Collins, was a radio operator during the Korean War.
Bo’s stepfather and late husband were also veterans. “All the men in my family served in the military. I spent eight incredible years as the Chairperson for the Disabled Veterans, all their rehabilitation events. They’re so inspiring, these young men and women, and what they’ve sacrificed.”
As for Bo’s love life, she was able to move on and even marry for a second time.
She Has a Thing for Johns
Derek found love again three years after her husband’s death. She met and fell in love with actor John Corbett, aged 57. The two have been together for nearly 18 years now. “I think we just keep our relationship day-to-day. I understand when he goes off on location, he understands when I travel. We have all our independence and freedom. We just enjoy spending our time together.”
Despite their lasting love, Derek said they’re not in a hurry to get married anytime soon. “I don’t know if we’ll ever get married,” she admitted. She commented on the fact that they don’t have children. “We’re not proving our love; we’re not starting a new generation together of families coming together.” The woman has a point!
Her Other Projects
Derek has been working on a project that doesn’t involve acting in a film. She is producing a history film about the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots in WWII. Derek was also a runway model for a day. She was one of a bunch of celebrities who made their mark on the catwalk for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women’s Red Dress Collection at the New York Fashion Week.
“The American Heart Association is close to my heart, and it should be close to all of our hearts,” she said. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, and one in three women will die of heart disease. As Bo put it: “That’s very close to my heart.”
The actress also has a goal to raise awareness of how pets can impact our health. Bo stated how “People with pets have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol… And I love pets. I love dogs, in particular. I’m really happy to be doing this and help spread this message that having a dog can really help your health.”
The cause hits home for Derek. About ten years ago, Bo had endocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart’s inner lining and is typically caused by bacteria. The condition can cause real complications if it’s not treated early, including stroke and seizure. “I’m completely fine, but if I hadn’t been aware of a little quirky pre-existing condition, it could have been very serious. Because I was aware of it, my doctor was aware of it; I’m perfectly fine.”
Staying in Shape
Bo admitted she doesn’t like to hit the gym to stay in shape, but rather she has found other ways to stay moving while also promoting good heart health. To stay fit, she swims. “I’ve always been involved in sports. I hate exercise, working out. The formal working out part, I don’t like it. I make every excuse not to do it.”
She also doesn’t like to lift weights because of the back surgery she had to do about five years ago because she had been riding horses for so long. The surgeon said that if she gets in a pool, then she won’t even need physical therapy. Swimming really is one of the best things you can do for your body.
63 and Still Killing It
While her acting career is not what it used to be – and maybe that’s a good thing considering the number of flops and Razzies she received – but Bo Derek still manages to captivate people. She has turned an early flop of an acting career into passionate work where she can focus on the things that matter to her most.
And to make it even better, she gets to do it all with a man who loves and supports her. After turning 62, the still-stunning actress appeared in the films ‘Christmas in the Heartland’ (2017) and ‘5 Weddings’ (2018). What’s up next for this golden-aged bombshell? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.